Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mudrooms...friend or foe?

Rain, rain go away! Come again another day! And take my family's muddy shoes with you!!!

I must admit, I love my mudroom.  Without this tiny all-purpose room the details of "life" would be overwhelming.  My mudroom is a tiny world unto itself limited not just to muddy shoes and boots!  It houses my laundry hamper, washer and dryer, two closets full of appliances I don't use on a daily basis, a basket for mail, a boot tray because there is a "no shoes" rule in my little Jewel Box® Home, laundry necessities, a long counter where I do anything from craft projects to folding socks, backpacks and letters to be returned to the teacher, a clip on which I hang permission slips or money for the book fair, my PC and printer and a myriad of seasonal clothing from flip flops and wet bathing suits in the summer, to boots and mittens in the winter.  If I didn't have this necessary catch all, the contents of living would overflow into my tiny home and eat us alive!

The truth of the matter is, though, that sometimes this is my least favorite room.  There is no serenity to it because it holds all the "ugliness" that isn't allowed into the main house.  After all, this is where the rubber meets the road in regards to charging cell phones, collecting loose change and finding a home for dirty socks!  Sometimes when I walk into this tiny room, which is really no more than an over-sized closet, I want to turn around and walk back out.

Let's face it, it needs some T.L.C.  This week I turn my eye to a little revamping and reexamination of this oft-used, but oft-neglected space.

Photo Courtesy of Kitchen & Bath Ideas

Everyone needs a place to sit and take off their shoes.  I love how this mudroom makes use of an unused corner for a bench encouraging family members and friends to respect the freshly mopped flooring.  A little basket underneath is a great way to corral loose shoes.

Photo Courtesy of Kitchen & Bath Ideas

With separate storage areas for every member of the family, there is more than enough room to store all their gear. Baskets on the top shelf hold a variety of small items such as hats and gloves.  Not enough room for a locker for each family member?  Have them use the buddy system and share!

Photo Courtesy of Kitchen & Bath Ideas

Backing the mudroom wall with corkboard creates an easy-to-use bulletin board perfect for posting schedule reminders and children's artwork.  And it looks so cute!

Photo Courtesy of Kitchen & Bath Ideas

Even if your house didn't come with a mudroom, you can improvise but creating your own.  A partial wall with lots of windows allows natural light to flood through to the kitchen and still feel like a separate area.  A chalkboard next to coat hooks provides a space to leave notes.

Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

Baskets do so much to conceal the clutter and add to the decor of the room while still remaining functional.  They are great for holding school books, hats and mittens or soccer balls.

Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

Another way to make a mudroom magically appear when it is not built into the original house plans is to hang a few hooks and place a boot tray by the door making efficient use of empty wall space.

Photo Courtesy of Better Homes &Gardens

Another way is to utilize cut out areas normally used for decorative purposes.  By converting this cut out area into cubby holes, this family created a mudroom area where none previously existed.

Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

Darling accents like the bench cushion and colorful towels make this laundry room appealing to the eye.

Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens 

Anywhere a small niche can be spared, a mudroom can be created.  Just by some careful placement of hooks and benches you can arrange a space for the odds and ends in your family to end up.  


Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Photo Courtesy of Country Living

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day!  Whether "Going Green" or being "Eco Friendly" is a priority in your little home, the fact of the matter is that we are all creatures here on this earth and we can celebrate Earth Day every day by being more aware of our environment.

Some easy ways to be mindful of the Earth and more eco-friendly in your little Jewel Box Home:

Photo Courtesy of Country Living
  • In the kitchen, shop for appliances that save energy and water such as those with the "Energy Star" label.  Not only does this help the environment, but it saves you pennies!
 Photo Courtesy of Country Living
  • Choose paints without volatile organic compounds.  VOC's can emit toxic gas into the atmosphere.
  • Upgrade to a tankless water heater.  They use 25-35 percent less energy.
  •  Use cloth napkins instead of paper. Eliminating disposable napkins keeps 500,000 tons of paper-based trash out of landfills each year.
  • Use a recycling bin!  
 Photo Courtesy of Country Living
  • Use soft-white compact fluorescent bulbs.  
  • Purchase bamboo shades.  Bamboo grows with few chemicals and naturally regenerates!
  • Choose natural soy candles for fragrance.  Soy emits no toxins!
  Photo Courtesy of Country Living
  • Add plants to your home to absorb airborne toxins.
  • Eat meat-free once a week!
  • Mulch your flower beds and save hundreds of gallons of water a year!
  • Heat and cool your home with trees.  Shading your house in the summer and providing wind breaks int the cooler months, trees provide extra protection in all weather types.

Just a few simple tasks can aid the environment and help us, as a human race, to protect and beautify our earth.

Happy Earth Day Every Day!


Monday, April 19, 2010

When Life Hands You Lemons, Cook and Drink Wine

Tonight, I'm following in Amber's footsteps from her post 'Keeping up With the Joneses' and getting real.  This past week has been mind-numbingly upsetting.  While my husband continues to look for work, a very good friend found a fabulous job.  I'm thrilled for her, but green with jealousy!!!  On top of that, all my efforts to get financial aid to pay for my son's college tuition, have come to naught.  Apparently, you have to be homeless and living on the street and send in notarized photos to prove it, to get any money.  And this is for a kid who is interning with the head of the University of Wisconsin Genetics Department and helping with the protocol to change the expression of the gene in utero identified for certain types of autism.  As a sophomore in college he is already doing micro-surgery.  But the worst of it all, my dear and closest friend is losing her battle with cancer.  We can no longer hope for a cure.  Next to my mother's death over twenty years ago, this will be the biggest loss of my life. 

So how do I cope with this kind of stress and upset?  I cook, drink wine and talk to my friends on the phone.  And I do it all at the same time!  Now this takes practice, so exercise caution the first time you try all three stress relievers at once.

Here I am slicing leeks, for sole, and talking to my good friend Maureen.

Here is my favorite pot.  It's like a security blanket to me and where I cook most of my meals.  It can go from stove top to the oven.

The completed dish is sole seasoned with salt and pepper then lightly sauteed in olive oil and a bit of butter.On a bed of linguine with caper, lemon, wine and parsley sauce. My husband and son 'at table' enjoying the fruits of my stress-filled day.

By the way, my sixteen-year-old son in the forefront of this picture is my photographer.

Until next time!


Friday, April 16, 2010

Let's Play Outside!

When my husband and I bought our first house fourteen years ago, the feature that sold us was the enormous back deck.  It was huge with many tiers and a hammock.  I could just picture myself lazily reading in that hammock during the warm summer days.  We have lived in three houses since that first, but I still miss that deck!

In the spring and summer months, we venture outdoors and try our best to utilize our big backyard as more living space.  My husband has built another big deck onto the back of our home and we spend lots of time on that deck grilling, sitting around the fire pit or just having a glass of wine and watching the kids catch fireflies.

I love that about warmer weather!  We can turn to the outdoors to add to our home's square footage.  I always try to keep my eyes peeled for fun and festive ways to enhance our outdoor living space.

Photo Courtesy of HGTV

I love the idea of soft curtains blowing in the breeze.  Not only would they shade you from the hottest part of the day, but also shield you from pesky bugs and mosquitoes in the evening hours.  Plus they are just so darn cute! 

Photo Courtesy of HGTV

Everything tastes better when eaten outdoors!  I love the idea of a morning cup of coffee in the above darling little courtyard on this bistro table.  I can see myself sipping orange juice and eating croissants right now!  

Photo Courtesy of HGTV

This adorable screened-in porch makes good use of indoor/outdoor carpeting with a fun rug to add to the decor helping the continuity of that transition from inside to out.  

 Photo Courtesy of HGTV

I love this railing with the built in planter boxes!  What an unusual way to add foliage to this lovely deck!  I just might borrow this for my own backyard paradise.

Photo Courtesy of HGTV

This homeowner turned a troublesome area where no grass would grow under a large tree into a beautiful patio area.  I love the bricked walkway and stairs and that wooden bench around the tree just enhances the whimsical feel of this backyard.

Photo Courtesy of HGTV

Fence and furniture painted the same looks chic and appealing when paired with a few plants and a festive rug!  A calm oasis for an afternoon cup of tea.

Whatever your style, your backyard can reflect your unique self and extend your living space all at the same time!  I am off to start sketching up some plans for those cute planters.  My hubbie will love another weekend project!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Need a Quick Appetizer? Say Cheese!

Last Saturday I went to lovely small dinner party thrown by one of my favorite friends.  What was my contribution to this soiree?  My quick and easy cheese plate. 

Here is how I do it.

  • 3 different types of cheeses; I like to use a soft cheese like a Brie, a hard aged cheese like a Parmesean or Asiago and a good extra-sharp cheddar
  • A small baguette sliced in rounds
  • Your choice of crackers; I like to use 'Petits Toasts'
  • Several bunches of grapes, green and/or red, and strawberries for garnish
  • A large platter or flat basket
The How-To:

Line your basket or platter with foil.  This makes clean-up so much easier!  Just wrap left-overs in the foil and leave with your hostess or bring extras home.

Slice your cheeses. ( Curlers are optional.  My hair doesn't get gorgeous on it's own. )

Wash your fruit.  I like to use a strainer then pat dry.

Arrange the cheeses.  Place one cheese in the center of the tray overlapping the slices and the two remaining cheeses, also overlapping the slices, on either side.  Here I have placed the brie in the center flanked by the cheddar and asiago.

Arrange the sliced bread and crackers on either side of the cheeses. 

Add the grapes and strawberries for color and to cover all tinfoil.  Obviously, I missed a spot of tinfoil in the lower right-hand corner of the tray.  Sloppy, sloppy!

And here I am with dear friend and hostess for the evening.

She has the most beautiful little Jewel Box® home and I promise to post photographs soon.

Until next time!


Friday, April 9, 2010

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Can I be real today?  Sometimes I hate my house.  Sometimes its size drives me crazy and its quirks are no longer charming.  Sometimes I wish I had a huge playroom so that I could shut my kids in when they have sleepovers so I don't have to hear them giggling and playing their music.  Sometimes I get tired of thinking of creative ways to entertain more than five people in my little abode.  Sometimes coming up with ways to store things efficiently makes me stomp my feet in frustration.  Can I just be honest, since we're being real today?  Sometimes I hate it that everyone I know lives in a bigger house than my own.

Photo Courtesy of Rathmullan Cottages
My best friend and her husband just built their dream house.  I am honestly, to the very tips of my toes, ecstatic for her.  But as I toured her new home with its cathedral ceilings and huge chandeliers and massive amounts of closet space, I got jealous.  Sigh.  Sometimes I want a big house too!!!

Photo Courtesy of Busy Boo
Its so funny that in America we put a lot of stock in the term "Bigger is Better".  We all know that this is not necessarily true in every situation, but in years past it seemed that houses just got larger and larger.  In 1950, the average size of a new single-family American residencewas 983 square feet. Today, it is nearly 2500 square feet. As home sizes ballooned over that time, family size shrank. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 1950, an average American family consisted of 3.8 people; today’s average family contains 2.6 people. 
We are using more space for less people!

Photo Courtesy of Blue Johanna Cottages
But as the economy struggles and our desire to be more eco-friendly and families are working toward "living green", Americans appear to be scaling back!  Making a conscious decision to scale down the nest is hard for some, but garners many rewards in the long run.

Photo Courtesy of Enchanted Cottages
Some special advantages to living in a small home:

  • Our small house makes us closer. We are forced to cooperate, and spend lots of time playing together.
  • Staying in our small home saves us money on our mortgage, enabling me to not work full time and spend more time with my children.
  • We can clean our house well, if we all work together, in about an hour!  Can't beat that!!
  • We don't "need" as many things.  This provides protection from impulse buys. Sometimes when I'm shopping, I see the most gorgeous things. I would love to buy them on impulse but I can't, because where would I put them in our small home?
  • It is cheaper and easier to heat and cool a small house.
  • The children play outside more and get lots of exercise.
  • It is easy to know what the kids are up to. We can easily monitor their computer and TV habits and who they are spending time with in regards to friends.  There is no need to buy baby monitors for your infant-you can hear them wherever they are. And it's much safer, too.
  • Items in our house go through a process of natural selection; only the most used and loved items stay. This means everything we use and play with is high quality.
  • There is less maintenance involved in a small home.
  • When living in a small home all of the space is utilized. Power isn’t wasted heating and cooling unused rooms.

Photo Courtesy of A Snail Pace

Oh sure, irritation overcomes me sometimes when I start feeling bad about keeping up with my friends and their McMansions, but it always passes when I go home and walk in the front door my tiny space and think of how much love, fun and memories have been created in my little Jewel Box®.  


Monday, April 5, 2010

Cooking in a Small Kitchen: Monday Night Dinner

What is it like to cook in a small kitchen?  Let me show you.  Here I am cooking Monday night dinner.

Tonight I got home around 7:30, changed into jeans, tied on my apron and started cooking.  This is my usual routine along with the glass of white wine I have while cooking.  (A girl has got to unwind somehow.)

Dinner was pasta with shrimp and asparagus left over from Easter dinner. First I lightly sauteed chopped celery, leeks and a clove of sliced garlic in olive oil with a pat of butter.  While that was going I shelled the shrimp and blanched the asparagus.  I added 3/4 cup of white wine to the saute - same wine as I'm drinking - let it simmer down, then added the shrimp.  When it turned pink, I added the asparagus and set the pan to simmer. Next I boiled the pasta water, after adding 2 T. of salt.  Once the pasta was al dente I added it to the sauce along with some pasta water. Then I chopped about 1/4 C. parsley, sprinkled that onto the dish, stirred everything together and it was done. 

The pasta water is boiling and the sauce simmering.

Stirring the pasta water. I'm always gritting my teeth while cooking. It's a technique that seems to work for me.  Kind of like Michael Jordan sticking his tongue out while making those amazing shots.

Pasta with shrimp and asparagus ready to serve.

Most nights we have a salad with dinner and tonight wasn't any different. 

Getting the romaine lettuce ready for salad.  
Don't I look glamorous? This is the real me, sans make-up.

The salad is ready.  Tonight I added french and kidney beans
along with the usual vinaigrette.

It takes me about one hour to make dinner.  But it's actually easier and quicker to cook in a small kitchen because everything is close at hand.  And yes, I cook like this almost every night.  Usually we eat at the dinner table, but tonight we watched the NCAA tournament.  I was rooting for Butler, but Duke won.  Still, what a great game!

Until next time!


Friday, April 2, 2010

The Easter Table

Whether you are a celebrator of Easter or just a fan of Spring, there is no excuse like a sunny day for a get together. This weekend, as my family and I prepare to welcome a season of re-birth, I am looking for ideas for my breakfast and dinner table!

Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

Nothing says "Hello Spring!" like pulling up the shades, drawing back the curtains and letting the sunlight decorate the room.  This Sunday, I plan to allow the outdoors in with a little help from some squeaky clean windows and a few blossoms on my breakfast table.


Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

I love the idea of a layered table complete with charger, main course dish, and a fruit plate.  The tiny cup of blooms is just a token charm that says "I love you, please sit here!".

 Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

What better centerpiece for Easter than a beautiful bowlful of eggs!  Love that.

Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

In my little Jewel Box Home, we don't have a separate dining area.  We feast on breakfast, lunch and dinner right at the good old kitchen table.  But I try my best to make it special for Easter dinner by formalizing things a bit.  Nothing says "Special Occasion" like freshly ironed linens to dress the dinner table.   

Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

I am a huge fan of flowers on the table.  Whether plucked from the flowering bush outside the front door or purchased at the neighborhood florist, my special tables feel naked without a blossom of some kind.  


Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

Bring the outdoors in with twigs and blooms with a few artificial eggs on a lovely springtime table runner.  Lovely!

Photo Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens 

The simplest, yet most whimsical idea of all that I will definitely be borrowing for our Easter Feast is a purchased chocolate bunny with a little name card at each placesetting!  Won't my girls love that?

Hoppy Easter!